Breaking Bad Postmortem: Is It All Over for Walt?
by Adam Bryant
[WARNING: The following story contains spoilers from Sunday's episode of Breaking Bad. Read at your own risk.]
Sunday’s episode of Breaking Bad featured a moment five seasons in the making.
During a tense game of cat-and-mouse, Walt (Bryan Cranston) tries to lure his former partner Jesse (Aaron Paul) out of hiding so that the men Walt hired to kill Jesse could do their work. Little does Walt know that Jesse is working with Walt’s DEA agent brother-in-law Hank (Dean Norris), who not only keeps Jesse from playing into Walt’s hands, but also concocts a brilliant scheme. Using a cameraphone and some brains (both their own and some they bought at the store), Hank and Jesse trick Walt into confessing a number of his crimes, including revealing the location of the money he buried in the desert.
After Walt realizes that he’s been had, he surprisingly surrenders, allowing Hank to (finally!) slap handcuffs on the great and powerful Heisenberg. But just as Hank begins to celebrate, the crew Walt hired to off Jesse shows up armed to the teeth. Despite Walt’s protestations, the men open fire on Hank & Co. with a hail of bullets as the episode cuts to black.
So who makes it out alive? And is Walt truly ready to give up now that he’s in cuffs? TVGuide.com chatted with co-executive producer George Mastras to dissect the episode.
Walt ordered the hit on Jesse, but he still seems uneasy about it. Are his feelings toward Jesse the last shred of humanity left in Walt?
Mastras: He’s in a different place this season. I think a lot of people just expect Walt to be full-on Scarface, ordering hits on people that he loves and cares about. To us, his relationship with Jesse was such that it couldn’t be that easy. It just felt more organic that this was a big, big struggle for him. Whether or not that’s something redemptive in Walt, it’s up to the audience to decide.
Todd (Jesse Plemons) didn’t even blink when he learned that Walt wanted to kill Jesse.
Mastras: Jesse punched him in the aftermath [of the Drew Sharp killing] and Jesse tried to kick him out of the gang. He hasn’t had a good history with Jesse. So he’s not crying about it. There’s probably a little inner satisfaction there when Walt says that he wants to go after Jesse.
Or maybe he’s too distracted by Lydia’s (Laura Fraser) lipstick.
Mastras: [Laughs] Todd’s a weird guy. He kept the tarantula from the shooting. So he has this sort of obsessive quality to him. But yeah, he’s got this sort of a puppy-dog crush on Lydia.
Walt might be the first criminal mastermind foiled by PhotoShop. Clearly, Hank proves to be a pretty resourceful cop.
Mastras: Hank is really, really smart. People underestimate him. He’s a very smart investigator. This episode is sort of the culmination of the chess match that’s been going on since the beginning of this season. This ploy with the money [is] a smart plan by Jesse and by Hank. Hank uses his investigative powers to figure out from Huell [Lavell Crawford] that the money was buried… and they come up with this ploy to create this PhotoShop picture.
By the same token, it’s smart on behalf of Jesse, because he knows that the one thing that’s going to make Walt fly off the handle is his money. The money has become an embodiment of everything. It’s almost like the money encapsulates his love for his family and it justifies all. If he dies leaving this legacy, he’ll gain some kind of respect and immortality. Everything is wrapped up in this money, and Jesse knows that.
Walt confesses to an awful lot during that conversation with Jesse.
Mastras: Walt flies off the handle. It turns into a race and he’s not going to sit back and be the reasoned scientist and think really long and hard about it. … There is no reason for him to think that Jesse’s got something up his sleeve. It almost plays into Walt’s thought of Jesse as childish…He’s never going to think that Jesse would work with Hank because Jesse’s a spiteful child and he hates Hank.
When Walt makes it out to To’hajiilee, he realizes that he’s been had. But when Jesse shows up with Hank, he’s just crushed — he even sheds a tear. What do you think is going through his head in that moment?
Mastras: It’s Walt’s realization that it is over — that he’s done for, he’s lost. Hank has beat him in that moment. I think at that moment, he’s like, “Do I go down in shooting or do I not?” He’s feeling defeated. It’s hard for us to know exactly what’s going on in his head, but certainly I think there’s a feeling of, “I don’t want to kill Hank.”
And he’s already called off Jack (Michael Bowen) and his crew.
Mastras: Walt’s thinking, “I could go ahead with this and see where the cards lie, but what’s next? Am I ever going to be able to keep this from my family?” But at the end of the day, he surrenders.
It’s a huge moment to see Hank put Walt in handcuffs.
Mastras: It was a big moment. It was, to some extent, Jesse finally getting back at Walt. And it was Hank redeeming himself, busting Walt red-handed. It was Walt finally seeing the chickens come home to roost and finally getting busted. All his lies, everything — they’re all exposed in that moment. It was an emotional moment for everyone, and a big moment in the series to actually see the great Heisenberg getting justice at the hands of his brother-in-law and at the hands of this kid that he has manipulated for so long.
Hank’s phone call with Marie (Betsy Brandt) was sweet.
Mastras: It’s really a victorious moment for Hank. He calls his wife and there are tears, and it’s like, “We did it. We beat this monster who was going to drag us down.” It was a moment of just sharing his victory with his wife. It felt right that that’s what he would do at that moment.
And then all hell breaks loose when Jack’s crew shows up anyway. This can’t end well, can it?
Mastras: I don’t want to pontificate about what happens next or where it’s headed, but in that moment where Walt’s saying, “Jack, don’t do it,” I think we can feel pretty confident that Walt does not want Hank dead at that very moment.
But couldn’t Hank’s death at this point be the only thing that gets Walt out of this jam? Why do you think he’s still resisting it?
Mastras: It’s really up for people to decide. It could be just one thing. It could be many things. There’s his legacy and there’s his money and all these factors. One thing’s clear: He cares deeply about his brother-in-law and he doesn’t want him to go out at the hands of Nazi bullets. There’s three lives in the balance, [as well as] his own. I don’t know if it would resolve his situation if Hank were gunned down. And I don’t know that Walt’s thinking that far in advance.
Breaking Bad airs Sundays at 9/8c on AMC.